AQIM leader exploits Tunisia, Algeria unrest
By Adem Amine in Algiers and Jamel Arfaoui in Tunis for Magharebia – 13/01/11
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) chief Abdelmalek Droukdel (aka Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud) issued two audio recordings on Sunday (January 9th) addressing the Algeria riots and on-going demonstrations in Tunisia.
"This is a media diversion, the aim of which is further to inflame simmering social tensions, with the aim of sustaining chaos in the country and easing the pressure on the few terrorists who remain active in the Kabyle underground," commented a high-ranking officer in the Algerian army, who wished to remain anonymous.
The new recordings are the first such appearance by the AQIM leader since a major military operation was launched in the mountainous uplands of Sidi Ali Bounab in Kabylie, 100km east of Algiers, last December.
"Droukdel is seeking to mark his return to the media, disproving information suggesting he had been killed during a major clean-up operation by the military forces late last December. So for him, it is a question of proving he is still alive," added the officer, who was clearly surprised by Droukdel's "incursion" into the fields of politics and the economy.
Droukdel made no reference to the offensive, preferring to talk instead about the Algerian finance bill published on January 4th and the country's currency reserve figures, which were made public on the same day. The recordings appear to have been made after January 5th, when the first clashes broke out in the working-class district of Bab El Oued in Algiers.
"This media intervention could be read in two ways. The first is that AQIM wants to mobilise, and maybe even recruit, members among the protesters. We have indeed seen young Algerians travelling to Iraq to fight the allied forces. We have indeed heard young people asking for weapons to go and fight the Israeli army in Gaza and Southern Lebanon," said Mustapha Saidj, a politics professor at the University of Algiers.
"The second interpretation is that this terrorist organisation is currently experiencing internal conflict. We have AQIM in the north and AQIM in the Sahel, and these two groups within this single organisation are experiencing frictions and a leadership struggle. But quite apart from all this, we must remember that there has been a major clean-up operation in Kabylie, AQIM's stamping ground in the north. This action is destined to have a psychological effect on what remains of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb," Saidj said.
The professor added that "historically, al-Qaeda has always stepped in every time there has been an event which focuses the attention of the international media. Remember his recordings which came out on the occasion of attacks in Iraq and attacks by the Israeli army against Gaza. This intervention is intended to say that social unease, in Tunisia and Algeria alike, justifies their fight against the corrupt regimes running this or that country."
The recordings are "one piece of a larger Islamist puzzle, which involves capitalising on discontent in the streets," according to University of Algiers lecturer Smail Maaraf. He stressed that the Islamists failed in their efforts to capitalise on the situation because they have not managed to repeat their coup of October 1988, when they showed themselves to be incredibly strong at mobilising the streets.
"Their words no longer have any hold on society, which sees them as terrorists and cut-throats," Maaraf said, adding that Droukdel's intervention had little impact on society. "Young people today, those born after the 90s, tend to be tuned in more to foreign TV channels, or logged on to the internet, and they're much more interested in nice clothes or looking for places to have a good time," said the lecturer, explaining why the extremists' talk has lost its hold over the hearts of young people, whose attention is focused elsewhere.
"The Islamist message no longer has any influence in the street," declared Mohamed Sifaoui, an expert on Islamist issues. As proof, he cited the case of Ali Benhadj, "who was almost lynched in Bab El Oued, the very district where he harangued the crowds 20 years ago."
Algerian political analyst Rachid Grine concurred, noting that "this attempt by AQIM to capitalise on the protests will not strike a chord with people, and extremist language no longer hits home." He also mentioned the way that Ali Benhadj was sent packing from Bab El Oued.
Ali Benhadj went into the working-class district of Bab El Oued in Algiers on the second day of the protests. Benhadj was shouted down by young people before being questioned by the police.
Action must "be stepped up, free from any partisan intentions, to coordinate our efforts to create a favourable climate for real political change in Algeria," Movement for Liberty and Social Justice MP Anwar Haddam said.
Tunisian journalists denounce AQIM
Meanwhile in Tunisia, the reaction to the Droukdel tape was equally harsh. Journalists in Tunisia on Monday (January 10th) issued a joint statement condemning the AQIM message.
"We reject that support and are counting on the efforts of the Tunisian people. We hope to establish a modern, democratic community, which is far from the model propagated by al-Qaeda," Naji Al-Baghouri, former head of the National Syndicate for Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) said.
MP Aouda Al-Saybi noted, "They finally dropped their mask," adding that AQIM's "attempts to make inroads on Tunisian soil were foiled. Among our priority demands are achieving security as well as creating employment opportunities. There can be no life without security. Al-Qaeda has no place in Tunisia."
"This is a bad joke that will be taken advantage of by all those who wish to disfigure the just and legitimate action taken by protestors," Nadra, a student, told Magharebia.
Three years ago, Tunisia witnessed bloody confrontations between a group of young men who belonged to AQIM and security forces, which resulted in the killing and arresting of the group that sought to sabotage vital establishments in the country and diplomatic missions in Tunisia.
"They are out to ruin the modernism project in Tunisia and I don't think they will let go," Shahrazah Okasha said.
The journalists also called for "immediately refraining from using live ammunition in confronting protestors and ending the siege imposed on cities and districts".
Sufyan Ben Farahat, a writer and media professional, said al-Qaeda "deserves no attention and must be strictly denounced".
It makes no sense for al-Qaeda to try and penetrate Tunisia while people are demonstrating for their pride and freedom, according to Tunis resident Khaled Ben Oman. Their aspirations have nothing to do with those of al-Qaeda, who only thrive in muddy swamps, he said. "I think al-Qaeda's statement fell on deaf ears."
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